Sustainability meeting

A sustainability specialist could...


Reduce a corporation's carbon output by ensuring that a company's fleet of cars be electric vehicles. Electric vehicle Organize environmental volunteer activities, like a beach cleaning day, for employees company-wide. Ocean cleanup pair
Save millions of dollars in operating costs by reducing the water and electricity needed to run a factory. Money Redesign a company's production line using recyclable materials for all of its packaging. Man with recycling bin
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Key Facts & Information

Overview Are you passionate about the environment? Do you like developing and implementing new ideas? Do you enjoy talking with people about how humans impact nature? If these things are true about you, then you may be the ideal candidate for a job as a sustainability specialist. Sustainability specialists work in large and small corporations and universities to design and execute energy and resource conservation programs that reduce their employers' impact on the environment. This is a great career for people who enjoy working on teams, are socially responsible, and like to get things done!
Key Requirements Passion for environmental issues, good teamwork skills, ability to manage and direct teams, diplomatic personality, excellent public-speaking and problem-solving skills
Minimum Degree Bachelor's degree
Subjects to Study in High School Environmental science, biology, chemistry, algebra, geometry; if available, statistics, public speaking
Median Salary
Sustainability Specialist
  $73,570
U.S. Mean Annual Wage
  $49,630
Min Wage
  $15,080
Projected Job Growth (2014-2024) More Slowly than Average (3% to 6%) In Demand!
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Related Occupations
Source: O*Net

Training, Other Qualifications

In addition to a scientific background in environmental science or engineering, employers sometimes look for LEED (or Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) accreditation. The credentialing is administered by the Green Building Certification Institute under the supervision of the U.S. Green Building Council. There are several types of certification, depending on what students plan to do in their careers. However, credentialing involves coursework, working on green building projects, and taking an exam. To learn more, check out the U.S. Green Building Council website.

Education and Training

The minimum degree required for entry-level sustainability specialists is a bachelor's degree in environmental sciences, environmental engineering, or a related field. While a graduate degree is not required for entry-level positions, many employers find it desirable, because students with graduate-school experience have the opportunity to work in-depth on sustainability projects.

Classes or work experience in marketing, finance, and business are also valuable for job placement as a sustainability specialist.

Watch this video to see how two students from the University of Notre Dame in Indiana made a big difference by implementing sustainability programs in the administration buildings at the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore Park.

Nature of the Work

Sustainability specialists support and implement programs that focus on improving the environment, saving money for their employer, and helping their local community. They conduct research and analysis and identify opportunities for new programs as well as improvements in current programs. Sustainability programs include monitoring and improving energy and natural resource usage, waste-generation management, recycling, water-usage reduction, and assessing carbon footprint. Once enough information has been compiled from these programs, the sustainability specialist will report on progress and act on the information. As part of educating and informing their employers and clients, they must promote and advertise their environmental programs.

Sustainability specialists assist in strategic policy planning. In corporate settings they are part of the team that develops the corporate social responsibility (or CSR) document. This document describes how a company will operate in a business setting while being mindful of the social impacts of their actions. When working with clients in a corporate setting, they must prepare action plans to improve the sustainability of the clients' products and operations. They must know how to perform product and market analysis in order to understand what the clients' customers want. To do their job effectively, sustainability specialists must be familiar with relevant energy and environmental legislation.

Sustainability specialists work on a variety of projects and can manage teams where the members come from a variety of disciplines. They can be part of a team that works on greening buildings; as such, they must have experience with various "green" practices and standards, including: Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (or LEED), ISO 14001 (an international standard that specifies a method for controlling and improving a company's environmental performance), or the EPA's Environmental Management System.

Work Environment

Most sustainability specialists work in office buildings, laboratories, or industrial plants. They may spend time outdoors, where they monitor or direct operations, or solve on-site problems.

On the Job

  • Develop sustainability project goals, objectives, initiatives, or strategies in collaboration with other sustainability professionals.
  • Monitor or track sustainability indicators, such as energy and natural-resource usage, waste generation, and recycling.
  • Assess or propose sustainability initiatives, considering factors such as cost effectiveness, technical feasibility, and acceptance.
  • Collect information about waste-stream management or green building practices to inform decision-makers.
  • Create marketing or outreach media, such as brochures or websites, to communicate sustainability issues, procedures, or objectives.
  • Create or maintain plans or other documents related to sustainability projects.
  • Develop reports or presentations to communicate the effectiveness of sustainability initiatives.
  • Identify or procure needed resources to implement sustainability programs or projects.
  • Provide technical or administrative support for sustainability programs or issues.
  • Write grant applications, rebate applications, or project proposals to secure funding for sustainability projects.
  • Identify or create new sustainability indicators.
  • Identify or investigate violations of natural-resource use, waste management, recycling, or other environmental policies.
  • Research or review regulatory, technical, or market issues related to sustainability.
  • Review and revise sustainability proposals or policies.

Companies That Hire Sustainability Specialists

Explore what you might do on the job with one of these projects...

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Science Fair Project Idea
Have you ever dreamed of a world where you could take the scraps from last night's dinner and toss them into your car's fuel tank and make gas? Well, we're not quite in "Back to the Future" yet, but in this energy science fair project, you'll discover that food scraps, dead plants, sawdust, and other decaying organic matter, called biomass are a rich source of energy. You can get energy out of biomass by burning it, turning it into a liquid, or by turning it into a gas called biogas. You've… Read more
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Science Fair Project Idea
Have you ever seen a product labeled "biodegradable" or "compostable" and wondered just how well it decomposes? A lot of different products claim to be biodegradable or compostable, such as food containers, bags, packaging materials, and spoons and forks. Not only do they clearly come in different shapes and sizes, but they are made of different materials as well. Do they decompose differently, and, if so, which decomposes the fastest? In this science project, you will make your own indoor… Read more
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Science Fair Project Idea
You have probably read all about forms of alternative energy like solar and wind power. But what about human power? With the aid of a coil of wire and some magnets, you can generate electricity with nothing more than a flick of your wrist. In this project, you will build a small hand-powered electrical generator that can power a series of tiny lights. Get ready to save the planet and get some exercise at the same time! Read more
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Science Fair Project Idea
If you made a pile of all the electronic devices (cell phones, computers, stereos, televisions, MP3 players, video game systems, remote-control toys, etc.) that your family has gotten rid of since you were a baby, how big would that pile be? Would it be taller than you? Would it fit better in a wheelbarrow or in a pickup truck? And did they just throw it in the trash? In this science project, you'll explore what people in your community do with electronic waste, commonly called e-waste, and… Read more
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Science Fair Project Idea
How much water do you use? Conserving water can do more than save your parents' money, it can also save freshwater ecosystems, wetlands, and watersheds. Some companies are trying to help fix the problem by making low flow faucets and showerheads. How well do they work? How much water can you save? Go to the hardware store to buy a few of the water saving products. Compare the amount of water that you run over a period of time to determine how much water you can save. Which water saving… Read more
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Science Fair Project Idea
The sustainability of our planet's resources ultimately depends upon our actions as citizens. How much we drive, what we eat, whether we have pets, and whether we recycle are all individual actions that affect the sustainability of the Earth's resources. Learn how ecological footprinting works and figure out how big your footprint is. How big is your family's footprint? Your school? A local business? Can you propose ways to increase or decrease the size of your ecological footprint? Develop… Read more
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Science Fair Project Idea
Most of the energy and fuel that we use in the United States is derived from burning fossil fuels. Fossil fuels are the remains of plants and animals that lived hundreds of millions of years ago. Examples of fossil fuels include coal, petroleum oil, and natural gas. Burning coal releases 21.3 gigatons of carbon dioxide— a greenhouse gas that may be responsible for global warming and climate change—into the air in one year. About half of this amount is absorbed by natural processes… Read more
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Science Fair Project Idea
This project is inspired by the Banaue Rice Terraces, 2,000 year old structures carved into mountainsides in the Philippines. See if you can recreate the water flow of this ancient marvel, often called the Eighth Wonder of the World, using just household materials! The 2017 Fluor Engineering Challenge is over but you can still try out the project and compare your design to the high scores, or use the idea for a science fair or classroom activity. Read more
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Science Fair Project Idea
Have you considered where the gasoline that your parents put in your car comes from and how long that source will last? The fuel that most vehicles use, gasoline, is a petroleum product. Petroleum is a fossil fuel and is a nonrenewable form of energy, meaning we use it faster than it is able to be reproduced. Burning fossil fuels also produces pollutants that might hurt our environment. Using a kind of fuel from a renewable source would help save Earth's natural resources and cut down on… Read more
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Science Fair Project Idea
If you're interested in arts and crafts, you might like this project. It uses several alternative, renewable sources of fiber to make paper, and compares the resulting papers for strength and writing quality. Read more
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Science Fair Project Idea
What happens to the food leftovers in your home? Do they go in the trash? Down the garbage disposal? Or get gobbled up by the family dog? Food leftovers are a type of organic waste, a waste that comes from a plant or animal. Organic waste—like table scraps, agricultural waste, and human and animal waste—is biodegradable. This means, it can be chemically broken down by bacteria, fungi, or other living organisms into very small parts. Figure 1. This… Read more
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Science Fair Project Idea
One way to save water is to turn the faucet off while you brush your teeth. But did you know that there are products that can help save water even while the water is on? In this experiment find out how low-flow faucets and aerators work to reduce the flow of water. How much water can you save? Read more
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Science Fair Project Idea
In the United States, lighting for homes accounts for about 14% of all residential electricity usage (EIA, 2014). That's billions of dollars worth of electricity per year. The U.S. has passed legislation to phase out older, more inefficient incandescent light bulbs, and they are being replaced with newer, more-efficient bulb types like compact fluorescent lights (CFLs) or light-emitting diodes (LEDs). How much energy (measured in kilowatt-hours [kWh]) and how much money could be saved by… Read more
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Science Fair Project Idea
Did you know that the color of your house could save money? Do this experiment to see which colors regulate temperature best in different environments. Then convince your parents to paint the house and save some money on their energy bill. Maybe they will be so happy they will also increase your allowance! Read more
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Science Fair Project Idea
Our forests are a very important natural resource that need to be managed wisely. We use wood products for many different purposes: building materials, paper, cardboard, furniture, fuel, etc. How can we use wood products in a sustainable manner? You can do experiments that examine the growth time of different tree species to see which are good candidates for tree farming. Which types of lumber are most sustainable? You can also compare the effects of clear cutting vs. thinning a forested… Read more
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Science Fair Project Idea
This project is a great way to "bring home" the concept of energy use. All you need to get started is a good-sized sample of monthly electric bills from households in your area. Building from this simple beginning, you can ask questions that can take you in many different directions. For example: How much electricity does the "average" person in your area use per month? How much does electricity use vary among different families? Read more
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Science Fair Project Idea
The sustainability of our ocean fisheries is a topic of concern for many, including environmentalists and fishermen who make their living on the bounty of the sea. It is important to use sustainable fishing practices so that our fisheries are not over-fished leading to a decline in productivity. Some states require fish markets to post information about their fish so that consumers can make informed decisions about which fish to buy. They post the type of fish (e.g., Coho Salmon), the source of… Read more
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Science Fair Project Idea
Coal, gas, and oil are energy resources that are not renewable, meaning that once we use up the world's supply of these natural resources there will not be any left. There is a lot of debate about how long these resources will last. One way to ensure that we will not find ourselves in an energy crisis is to develop energy resources that are renewable. Renewable energy is a resource that cannot be used up. Investigate the many uses of renewable energy: solar energy, wind energy,… Read more
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Science Fair Project Idea
Ever been at the beach, taking in the sun and surf, listening to the Beach Boys play on your radio when suddenly it runs out of batteries right in the middle of California Girls? Okay, maybe this only happens to grey haired parents. You being younger and smarter use a hand-powered crank radio to listen to the latest pop tunes on Radio Disney. If batteries and Beach Boys are too old-school for you, then this may be the perfect experiment. Read more
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Science Fair Project Idea
Do you like to tell adults where to go and how to get there? Well, here's your chance to do it in the name of science! In this science fair project, you will see what happens to your car's fuel efficiency when it takes you downtown to see a movie, up a hill for a great view, or out for a cruise on a flat country road. Read more

Ask Questions

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Additional Information

These organizations can provide you with more information about the field of sustainability:

Sources

Additional Support

We'd like to acknowledge the additional support of:

  • Chevron
  • Intel Foundation
  • Symantec Foundation
Free science fair projects.